Gaslighting and Addiction

Published On: November 1, 2022

What is ‘Gaslighting’?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. The ‘gaslighter’, or the ‘bully’, often creates a false account of what truly happened or what was said in a situation.

This leads people to question their own judgement or actions as they are made to believe they are always wrong. [1] Victims of gaslighting are made to feel insecure about their feelings and question their perception of reality.

Merriam-Webster defined gaslighting as: [2]

“Psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

Gaslighting is often used as a control device, operated slowly on the victim so they don’t realise it is happening. This is most common in relationships but can easily happen between friends and family.

The term originates from the play ‘Gas Light’. The play by Patrick Hamilton depicts a man that tries to convince his wife that she has gone insane through mind games. His ultimate goal is to steal her money and fortune by making her question her sanity and reality. [3]

The Signs of Gaslighting

Woman slumped in a chair, feeling nauseous

If someone is gaslighting you, they may undermine you and belittle you. They tend to tell you that your emotions are invalid, saying that you are ‘overreacting’. Statements such as ‘calm down’ tend to minimise and belittle someone’s feelings, making them think they are exaggerating the situation and ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.

They may lie to you. Those who gaslight others tend to lie so that they don’t have to back down or be wrong in a situation. If you say, ‘that’s not how it happened’, they will carry on saying that ‘you’re crazy’, or ‘you’re making it up’.

The person gaslighting you may discredit you and gang up on you. They are likely to spread rumours or stories that aren’t true, making up what happened.

These stories are likely to involve you being ‘emotionally unstable’, ‘gross and dirty’, or a ‘liar’. This abusive tactic is unfortunately successful as others have reason to doubt what they are saying about you.

They also tend to shift the blame onto you for things that go wrong. They will deny their wrongdoing. Conversations and arguments are twisted to make you look like the bad guy, even if you are explaining why something has upset you or made you angry.

They will avoid all the responsibility for making you feel this way, often by telling you it’s your fault.

Gaslighting is predominantly undermining, making you feel less worthy and powerless. [4] This may leave victims of gaslighting feeling low and confused.

The main feelings the victims of gaslighting will feel are the following:

  • Second guessing yourself
  • Thinking you are confused about what happened
  • Thinking your perception of events is wrong
  • Believing you acted or spoke in the wrong manner
  • Dazed and confused
  • Feeling as if you are too sensitive
  • You may wonder if ‘something is wrong with you’
  • Diminished mental health
  • Low self-worth
  • Low confidence

This will lead you to spend the majority of your time apologising or trying to make it up to them. Gaslighting victims often suffer from mental illness due to both abusive behaviours and manipulative behaviours.

Why Do People Gaslight Others?

Teens Drinking

Psychological abuse is a form of manipulation, commonly seen in romantic relationships. The reason most people gaslight others is to take control; this power dynamic stems from forms of narcissism, childhood abuse or trauma, and other personality issues.

There are two main reasons behind gaslighting behaviour:

  1. To gain control and power
  2. The gaslighter was raised or surrounded by other gaslighters and have learnt these behaviours and traits

These tricks are both verbal and physical. Gaslighting techniques weaken people’s mental state and spirits, creating mental confusion.

This will not be a one-off event, but a slow and constant method of power control. This causes the gaslightee to break down slowly, whilst the gaslighter gains more control.

Our memories are never perfect – from forgetting where you left your glasses, to swearing that you packed your keys. We all remember events and conversations slightly differently, including expressions and tone of voice.

However, gaslighters will go out of their way to change and alter past events and conversations to make you feel ‘crazy’. [5] [6]

This is not a different opinion about what happened – this is normal. It is normal to disagree about why something happened or what it means, but to change the actual events or fabricate scenarios is gaslighting. This can range from mild occasional gaslighting, to constate and severe gaslighting.

Gaslighting and Addictive Behaviours

Woman exhausted

Addiction and gaslighting are intertwined. The addiction in question can be any addiction, such as sex addictionalcoholism, substance abuse, or gambling. Addicts of all forms tend to employ gaslighting techniques to manipulate the loved ones in their life.

They aim to convince others that either they are not addicted, or that they are not doing anything wrong.

For the addict, if it looks like they are addicted to something or someone, then it is because of the way someone is perceiving it, rather than it being true. This is done so that addicts can continue along their paths of addiction undisturbed.

When someone becomes addicted, their brain and body become dependent on the substance in question. This alters the brain’s neurological pathways, causing them to behave in a different manner than they used to or when they are sober.

Addiction then becomes a barrier in a relationship, because the addicted individual will start lying, harming or stealing as a result of their addiction. This affects both the addict and the concerned others, as neither wants the relationship to change or end.

Gaslighting is a way for addicts to maintain their addiction. The addicts are aware that:

  • Addiction affects relationships
  • Loved ones will disapprove of actions and events because of addiction

This leads them to engage in gaslighting behaviour to protect themselves and avoid confrontation and disapproval. At the start of addiction, addicts tend to be in denial themselves, so they tell others they are overreacting to the situation.

As others become concerned over time, addicts will display a range of secretive behaviours and manipulate situations to make others believe nothing is going on. This is less about power; the focus always remains on the next fix and maintenance of a ‘normal life’ on the outside.

The love in the relationship is replaced by the control of the substance the addict is addicted to. Addicts will do what they have to in order to fight the attitude and attempts to get them to stop using drugs or drinking alcohol.

The gaslightee’s may not realise they are being gaslighted until the addiction is severe. Addictive behaviour leads to emotionally and physically abusive behaviours, altering perceptions of reality.

The cycle of addiction can lead to mental health issues for all the people involved, as gaslighting is a form of manipulation.

The following are some of the common signs of gaslighting behaviour related to alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and other forms of addiction:

  • The addict will lie to you about what they are doing and where they are to avoid confrontation
  • The addict will emotionally manipulate the gaslightee to feel sorry for them if things go obviously wrong
  • The addict will manipulate situations in order to continue their addiction. For example, if they drink during the day or too much at an event, they will blame something or someone else.
  • Ignoring details and calling them ‘minor’ when they are forming part of the bigger picture of addiction.
  • Shift the attention onto the gaslightee, making them think they are the problem in the relationship. For example, they may say they are an unfaithful partner or suffering from a mental health disorder.

How to Cope with Gaslighting

Woman support

Gaslighting is extremely harmful, specifically in relation to mental health. You must act quickly but calmly if you realise you are in a gaslighting situation or relationship.

Once you have acknowledged the gaslighting and are aware of its negative impact on you, you can start to cope with the situation better and focus on your reactions. Try to think back to when the gaslighting started, and aim to figure out how severe it is and how long it has been going on. [7]

The next time they gaslight you, let them know what they are doing and how you feel about it. Make sure they understand that you will not tolerate their behaviour anymore and lay out the consequences of what will happen if they carry on.

It is important that you follow through with these consequences – if you don’t, they will believe they will have power over you regardless of what you say.

Through the period of being gaslighted, you may have become withdrawn and isolated from friends and family. This happens because you focus too much on making the gaslighter happy, to protect yourself from hurt and arguments.

Tell people what has been happening and use their love and support to break free of the cycle of emotional abuse. This involves detaching and removing yourself from situations where you are likely to be gaslighted, mentally and physically.

Do not allow yourself to be in a position where you are made to feel worthless and confused. This will reduce the control they have over you – if this means ending the relationship and distancing yourself, sometimes that is what is required for you to heal.

If addiction is the problem, try to get them into an intervention or straight into rehab or therapy. Addictive gaslighting behaviours are severe and can be mentally damaging if left untreated. There are special addiction services with addiction specialists that can help people at any addiction stage.

Don’t be fooled by sudden showers of affection. Gaslighters tend to treat others with a cold shoulder and then have a sudden change of heart to bring you back in. Those suffering from addiction will stop at nothing to get their next fix or be left undisturbed.

Do not think that they have miraculously broken free from addiction because they have started being more loving, or you haven’t caught them in a lie recently.

Addiction is a disease that requires medical intervention and professional help. Addicts may play the victim in a situation in order to get you to enable their addiction or believe nothing is seriously wrong. This might make you feel guilty, but you must remove yourself from those situations to take care of your mental health.

The signs of abuse and signs of gaslighting may not be obvious at first, but once your eyes are opened to the psychological manipulation then healing may start. Making you feel as though you are losing your sense of reality can be disorientating and have negative effects on the brain.

The trauma of gaslighting can bleed into different relationships, making you feel on edge or conscious of what is said and done. This is a direct result of an abusive relationship but can be managed through recovery and medical help.


[1] Breines J. Call me crazy: The subtle power of gaslighting. Berkeley Science Review. April 2012.


[3] Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslighting. The Lancet Psychiatry. February 1, 2018; 5(2): 117-118. Available at:

[4] Johnson VE, Nadal KL, Sissoko DRG, King R. “It’s not in your head”: gaslighting, ‘splaining, victim blaming, and other harmful reactions to microaggressionsPerspect Psychol Sci. 2021;16(5):1024-1036. doi:10.1177/17456916211011963


[6] Sweet, P. L. (2019). The Sociology of Gaslighting. American Sociological Review84(5), 851–875.

[7] Unwritten Scars: Gaslighting in Relationships. Licia Kurniawan, Liem Satya Limanta. Journal of Language, Literature, and Teaching. Vol 9, No 2 (2021).


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